Hunkers, conservative faction of the Democratic party in New York state in the 1840s, so named because they were supposed to "hanker" or "hunker" after office. In opposition to them stood the radical Democrats, or Barnburners. The Hunkers favored internal improvements and liberal chartering of state banks; they opposed antislavery agitation. They generally controlled the party machinery and the patronage. In the 1846 gubernatorial nomination they turned against the Democratic candidate, Gov. Silas Wright, a Barnburner. The Barnburners retorted in kind by voting for and supporting the Free-Soil ticket in the 1848 presidential election, which thereby went to the Whig candidate, Zachary Taylor. Those Barnburners who did not persist in their antislavery views were welcomed back to the party fold in 1850. The Hunkers themselves, however, subsequently divided into the "Softs" led by William L. Marcy and Horatio Seymour, who supported President Pierce, and the "Hards" led by Daniel S. Dickinson, who did not give up their antislavery principles and who opposed Pierce.
See J. D. Hammond, History of Political Parties in New York State, Vol. III (1852).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.